Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Who Are You Writing For?

YA Author Hannah Moskowitz had a really interesting post last week that I highly suggest you check out. It asks the question what are we, the YA writing community doing to YA? Are we letting our own (mostly adult) loves, insider knowledge, and community closeness dictate what kinds of books for teens get written and published? Have we become so insular that we can't see outside of ourselves to what teens REALLY want to read because we're so focused on the kind of YA that we want to write and read?

It's a fascinating post that touches on things I had never really thought about, but I'm thinking about them now. The first question I asked myself after reading this, was, do I do any of those things? I think, subconsciously, as writers, the more we become involved in the writing community, and examing written works with a writer's eye, the more we begin to think strategically, (as in, well, there's 5 mermaid books coming out next year so I need to do something different) and the more we try to push the envelope (as in, Wow! That book with 4 first person POVs was awesome! I wonder if I could do one with 6!).

I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing, and more than that, I don't think it's something that can be consciously controlled. Creative ideas spark creative ideas in creative people. Greatness inspires dedicated people to push themselves further. But I was struck by a point Hannah made, she said:

"...a teenager who loves vampires wants to read more about vampires. She doesn't give a shit whether it's out or not. So is our perception of a "saturated" market affecting her?"

And I thought, this goes back to the idea that as writers, we should write the stories that call to us, not the ones we think are going to sell, because we don't know. And now she makes that even clearer by pointing out that we may be doing our intended audience a disservice by putting aside the book they want to read just so our peers won't say, "You're writing another vampire book?" Or a contemporary, or an angel book, or whatever. Which is a shame, because peer pressure is one of the worst things about being a teen. And I think Hannah's right. We shouldn't dictate what's "cool" for teens. It's not possible anyway. If we decide "the next big thing" and force it down teens' throats, they will simply stop buying books until they find one that does feature stuff they like.

Partly because of her knowledge of the industry and involvement in the YA community, Hannah, a teen herself, said she worries that she doesn't know what teens want anymore. I had to ask myself if I knew, and then I had to be honest and say, I don't, not in the trendy way, anyway.

I write YA because it's where my heart lives. The stories that come to me almost always feature teens trying to figure out where they fit in life, who they want to be. I remember my teen years and how I felt, what I feared, and what I wanted, very clearly, and I write for that girl. She's my BS detector. She's my emotional guide. I hope that some things about being a teen don't change, and that what I write will resonate. I believe that if you stay true to the character and you're emotionally honest people will connect with your work whether it features the latest "cool" trend or not.

What about you? Have you read Hannah's post? What do you think?


Bethany Mattingly said...

Hey! Thanks for leaving that link! What an amazing post. I just don't know what to think now.

Kate said...

Yes, yes, and yes. I read Hannah's post, and what struck me most about it-- and your follow up-- was the willingness to even ask the question. As with most things in life, a shift in awareness can lead to a domino of important conversations, like Hannah's point about a teenager who loves vampires wanting to read more about vampires. I was talking to a friend's daughter the other day about how many agents and editors feel like paranormal has almost run its course, and she flat out said that as a reluctant reader, the only thing she-- or her friends-- were into at the moment were books about werewolves, angels, vampires, etc. Our babysitter, on the other hand, reads almost all contemporary. And my 11 year old? Well, he's all over the map. I guess the question that keeps bubbling up in my mind is this:: does the good writing market ever really get over saturated? Or do agents/editors (and I get why) just get burned out because of the sheer volume of similar stories/plot lines they see in a "trend?"

As for where the online writing community fits into all this, my hunch is just that information sharing that can and does influence writers in both positive and negative ways. Even if it isn't conscious, the more a writer reads "this is overdone" or "this is the next big thing" the more the "this" will get churned about in our minds; that's human nature.

Maybe being aware is all it takes to keep the creative force of the online YA community positive-- for writers AND readers.

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